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Rutgers, Northwestern defend deals with student protesters: 'We had to get the encampment down'

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Rutgers, Northwestern defend deals with student protesters: 'We had to get the encampment down'
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Rutgers, Northwestern defend deals with student protesters: 'We had to get the encampment down'

2024-05-24 09:38 Last Updated At:09:41

WASHINGTON (AP) — The presidents of Northwestern and Rutgers universities defended their decisions to end pro-Palestinian encampments through negotiations rather than police force, telling a House committee on Thursday that they defused the danger without ceding ground to protesters.

“We had to get the encampment down,” Northwestern's Michael Schill said. “The police solution was not going to be available to us to keep people safe, and also may not be the wisest solution as we’ve seen at other campuses across the country.”

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University security officers block pro-Palestinian demonstrators from Dodd Hall on the campus of UCLA in Los Angeles, Thursday, May 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The presidents of Northwestern and Rutgers universities defended their decisions to end pro-Palestinian encampments through negotiations rather than police force, telling a House committee on Thursday that they defused the danger without ceding ground to protesters.

A University police officer blocks a doorway from pro-Palestinian demonstrators entering at Dodd Hall on the UCLA campus on Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

A University police officer blocks a doorway from pro-Palestinian demonstrators entering at Dodd Hall on the UCLA campus on Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

Police block a doorway to pro-Palestinian demonstrators at Dodd Hall on the UCLA campus on Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

Police block a doorway to pro-Palestinian demonstrators at Dodd Hall on the UCLA campus on Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

The Fire Marshal pushes his way through Pro-Palestinian demonstrators at Dodd Hall on the UCLA campus on Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

The Fire Marshal pushes his way through Pro-Palestinian demonstrators at Dodd Hall on the UCLA campus on Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators disperse from Dodd Hall as requested by the police on the UCLA campus on Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators disperse from Dodd Hall as requested by the police on the UCLA campus on Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., and union activists discuss free speech on college campuses, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, May 23, 2024. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., and union activists discuss free speech on college campuses, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, May 23, 2024. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Northwestern University President Michael Schill testifies during a hearing of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce regarding pro-Palestinian protests on college campuses on Capitol Hill, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

Northwestern University President Michael Schill testifies during a hearing of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce regarding pro-Palestinian protests on college campuses on Capitol Hill, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

UCLA Chancellor Gene Block testifies during a hearing of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce regarding pro-Palestinian protests on college campuses on Capitol Hill, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

UCLA Chancellor Gene Block testifies during a hearing of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce regarding pro-Palestinian protests on college campuses on Capitol Hill, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

Northwestern University President Michael Schill testifies during a hearing of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce regarding pro-Palestinian protests on college campuses on Capitol Hill, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

Northwestern University President Michael Schill testifies during a hearing of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce regarding pro-Palestinian protests on college campuses on Capitol Hill, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

UCLA Chancellor Gene Block testifies during a hearing of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce regarding pro-Palestinian protests on college campuses on Capitol Hill, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

UCLA Chancellor Gene Block testifies during a hearing of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce regarding pro-Palestinian protests on college campuses on Capitol Hill, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

Northwestern University President Michael Schill testifies during a hearing of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce regarding pro-Palestinian protests on college campuses on Capitol Hill, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

Northwestern University President Michael Schill testifies during a hearing of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce regarding pro-Palestinian protests on college campuses on Capitol Hill, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

Rutgers University President Jonathan Holloway testifies during a hearing of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce regarding pro-Palestinian protests on college campuses on Capitol Hill, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

Rutgers University President Jonathan Holloway testifies during a hearing of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce regarding pro-Palestinian protests on college campuses on Capitol Hill, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

FILE - Signs are displayed outside a tent encampment at Northwestern University on Friday, April 26, 2024, in Evanston, Illinois. Leaders from Northwestern University, the University of California, Los Angeles, and Rutgers University are expected to testify before Congress on Thursday, the latest in a series of hearings spearheaded by House Republicans into how colleges have responded to pro-Palestinian protests on their campuses. (AP Photo/Teresa Crawford, file)

FILE - Signs are displayed outside a tent encampment at Northwestern University on Friday, April 26, 2024, in Evanston, Illinois. Leaders from Northwestern University, the University of California, Los Angeles, and Rutgers University are expected to testify before Congress on Thursday, the latest in a series of hearings spearheaded by House Republicans into how colleges have responded to pro-Palestinian protests on their campuses. (AP Photo/Teresa Crawford, file)

FILE - Demonstrators walk in an encampment on the UCLA campus after clashes between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian groups, Wednesday, May 1, 2024, in Los Angeles. Leaders from Northwestern University, the University of California, Los Angeles, and Rutgers University are expected to testify before Congress on Thursday, the latest in a series of hearings spearheaded by House Republicans into how colleges have responded to pro-Palestinian protests on their campuses. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, file)

FILE - Demonstrators walk in an encampment on the UCLA campus after clashes between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian groups, Wednesday, May 1, 2024, in Los Angeles. Leaders from Northwestern University, the University of California, Los Angeles, and Rutgers University are expected to testify before Congress on Thursday, the latest in a series of hearings spearheaded by House Republicans into how colleges have responded to pro-Palestinian protests on their campuses. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, file)

Schill and Jonathan Holloway of Rutgers were called before the House Education and the Workforce Committee as part of a series of hearings examining how colleges have responded to allegations of antisemitism.

Also testifying was Gene Block, chancellor of the University of California, Los Angeles, which has come under scrutiny for a delayed police response to violence between pro-Palestinian protesters and counterprotesters.

The committee’s inquiry expanded to large, public universities, UCLA and Rutgers, after earlier hearings largely focused on private, Ivy League colleges. Meantime, at Harvard's commencement Thursday, hundreds of students in graduation robes chanted “Free, Free Palestine” as they walked out of the ceremony. The school had announced on Wednesday that 13 students who participated in a protest encampment would not be able to receive diplomas alongside their classmates.

On Capitol Hill, committee Republicans accused the university leaders at the hearing of tolerating antisemitism, with particular scorn for Northwestern and Rutgers, where schools struck deals to end or limit protests.

Neither Northwestern nor Rutgers agreed to sever business ties with Israel — one of the protesters' chief demands. Rutgers agreed to discuss the topic; Northwestern revived a committee on “investment responsibility.”

Other terms focused on expanding institutional support for Muslim and Arab students and scholars on campus, and Rutgers promised not to retaliate against those who participated in protests.

“Each of you should be ashamed of your decisions that allowed antisemitic encampments to endanger Jewish students,” said Republican Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, the committee chair. "Mr. Schill and Dr. Holloway, you should be doubly ashamed for capitulating to the antisemitic rule breakers.”

The presidents considered police action but said it was not necessary.

“We made a choice — that choice was to engage our students through dialogue as a first option instead of police action,” Holloway said. “We had seen what transpired at other universities and sought a different way.”

Schill said students were willing to negotiate and reach a compromise that did not include divestment, their main demand. He said agreeing to a space for Muslim students where they could eat and pray, like other faith communities had on campus, was something he supported.

“We had students who were willing to negotiate and gave up their demands,” Schill said. “We said no, nothing that singles out Israel. Let’s think about what will make the university stronger."

Protesters hailed the agreements as victories. But on Capitol Hill, the presidents said they did not lose any ground.

“I would never recommend to the Board of Trustees divestment of anything or any academic boycott of Israel,” Schill said.

Even so, Foxx countered that Schill “created the perception” he would support divestment, “which encouraged other universities to cave on this.”

Each president denounced the rise of antisemitism amid the Israel-Hamas war. Schill and Block, who are Jewish, expressed their own disgust at some of the rhetoric and imagery used by protesters.

Block said public universities are in an especially tough bind as they work to shield students from discrimination while also upholding free speech. Unlike private universities, public universities are bound by the First Amendment. Even hateful speech must be protected, Block said, but UCLA draws the line when it crosses into threats and harassment.

He expressed remorse over the handling of a UCLA encampment that was attacked in early May. Counterprotesters threw traffic cones and released pepper spray in fighting that went on for hours before police stepped in, drawing criticism from Muslim students and political leaders.

“Tragically, it took several hours for law enforcement to quell the violence,” Block said “With the benefit of hindsight, we should have been prepared to immediately remove the encampment if and when the safety of our community was put at risk.”

On Wednesday, the police chief at UCLA was reassigned “pending an examination of our security processes,” according to a statement from the school.

A new pro-Palestinian encampment appeared on the UCLA campus as Block testified. “Our safety personnel are on-site and actively monitoring the situation,” Mary Osako, vice chancellor for UCLA Strategic Communications, said in a statement.

The encampment was abandoned when law enforcement arrived midday and declared it an unlawful assembly. Lines of officers pushed back a crowd of supporters that had gathered outside the encampment, but there were no clashes like those that occurred when a large camp was cleared three weeks earlier. A small group of demonstrators later staged a sit-in inside a nearby building before officers cleared them out.

As in previous hearings, Republicans pressed the leaders on discipline. They asked how many students had been expelled and how many faculty had been fired over antisemitic incidents since Oct. 7, when Hamas attacked Israel.

None of the presidents said students had been expelled, though they said there are dozens of ongoing investigations. Four students were suspended at Rutgers, Holloway said.

Schill said the numbers aren't a reflection of inaction.

“The fact that we didn’t have not yet suspended or expelled students does not mean that students have not received discipline,” he said. “There’s a wide range of discipline, and discipline has been meted out to many of those students.”

Tensions over the Israel-Hamas war have been high on campuses since the fall and spiked in recent weeks with a wave of pro-Palestinian tent encampments that led to over 3,000 arrests nationwide.

After the first congressional hearings in December, an outcry of criticism from donors, students and politicians led to the resignations of the presidents of Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania, who gave cautious, halting answers to questions about whether calls for the genocide of Jews would violate their schools’ conduct policies.

In April, the committee turned its attention to Columbia President Minouche Shafik, who took a more conciliatory approach to Republican-led questioning. Shafik’s concessions around faculty academic freedom upset students and professors at Columbia. Her testimony, and subsequent decision to call in police, escalated protests on campus that inspired students at other colleges to launch similar demonstrations.

Originally, the presidents of Yale University and the University of Michigan were called to testify on Thursday. But the committee shifted its attention to Northwestern and Rutgers after those colleges struck deals with pro-Palestinian protesters to limit or disband encampments.

Associated Press writers Christopher Weber and John Antczak in Los Angeles contributed to this report. AP photographers Damian Dovarganes and Ryan Sun also contributed.

The Associated Press’ education coverage receives financial support from multiple private foundations. AP is solely responsible for all content. Find AP’s standards for working with philanthropies, a list of supporters and funded coverage areas at AP.org.

University security officers block pro-Palestinian demonstrators from Dodd Hall on the campus of UCLA in Los Angeles, Thursday, May 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

University security officers block pro-Palestinian demonstrators from Dodd Hall on the campus of UCLA in Los Angeles, Thursday, May 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

A University police officer blocks a doorway from pro-Palestinian demonstrators entering at Dodd Hall on the UCLA campus on Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

A University police officer blocks a doorway from pro-Palestinian demonstrators entering at Dodd Hall on the UCLA campus on Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

Police block a doorway to pro-Palestinian demonstrators at Dodd Hall on the UCLA campus on Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

Police block a doorway to pro-Palestinian demonstrators at Dodd Hall on the UCLA campus on Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

The Fire Marshal pushes his way through Pro-Palestinian demonstrators at Dodd Hall on the UCLA campus on Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

The Fire Marshal pushes his way through Pro-Palestinian demonstrators at Dodd Hall on the UCLA campus on Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators disperse from Dodd Hall as requested by the police on the UCLA campus on Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators disperse from Dodd Hall as requested by the police on the UCLA campus on Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., and union activists discuss free speech on college campuses, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, May 23, 2024. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., and union activists discuss free speech on college campuses, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, May 23, 2024. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Northwestern University President Michael Schill testifies during a hearing of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce regarding pro-Palestinian protests on college campuses on Capitol Hill, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

Northwestern University President Michael Schill testifies during a hearing of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce regarding pro-Palestinian protests on college campuses on Capitol Hill, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

UCLA Chancellor Gene Block testifies during a hearing of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce regarding pro-Palestinian protests on college campuses on Capitol Hill, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

UCLA Chancellor Gene Block testifies during a hearing of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce regarding pro-Palestinian protests on college campuses on Capitol Hill, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

Northwestern University President Michael Schill testifies during a hearing of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce regarding pro-Palestinian protests on college campuses on Capitol Hill, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

Northwestern University President Michael Schill testifies during a hearing of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce regarding pro-Palestinian protests on college campuses on Capitol Hill, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

UCLA Chancellor Gene Block testifies during a hearing of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce regarding pro-Palestinian protests on college campuses on Capitol Hill, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

UCLA Chancellor Gene Block testifies during a hearing of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce regarding pro-Palestinian protests on college campuses on Capitol Hill, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

Northwestern University President Michael Schill testifies during a hearing of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce regarding pro-Palestinian protests on college campuses on Capitol Hill, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

Northwestern University President Michael Schill testifies during a hearing of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce regarding pro-Palestinian protests on college campuses on Capitol Hill, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

Rutgers University President Jonathan Holloway testifies during a hearing of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce regarding pro-Palestinian protests on college campuses on Capitol Hill, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

Rutgers University President Jonathan Holloway testifies during a hearing of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce regarding pro-Palestinian protests on college campuses on Capitol Hill, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

FILE - Signs are displayed outside a tent encampment at Northwestern University on Friday, April 26, 2024, in Evanston, Illinois. Leaders from Northwestern University, the University of California, Los Angeles, and Rutgers University are expected to testify before Congress on Thursday, the latest in a series of hearings spearheaded by House Republicans into how colleges have responded to pro-Palestinian protests on their campuses. (AP Photo/Teresa Crawford, file)

FILE - Signs are displayed outside a tent encampment at Northwestern University on Friday, April 26, 2024, in Evanston, Illinois. Leaders from Northwestern University, the University of California, Los Angeles, and Rutgers University are expected to testify before Congress on Thursday, the latest in a series of hearings spearheaded by House Republicans into how colleges have responded to pro-Palestinian protests on their campuses. (AP Photo/Teresa Crawford, file)

FILE - Demonstrators walk in an encampment on the UCLA campus after clashes between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian groups, Wednesday, May 1, 2024, in Los Angeles. Leaders from Northwestern University, the University of California, Los Angeles, and Rutgers University are expected to testify before Congress on Thursday, the latest in a series of hearings spearheaded by House Republicans into how colleges have responded to pro-Palestinian protests on their campuses. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, file)

FILE - Demonstrators walk in an encampment on the UCLA campus after clashes between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian groups, Wednesday, May 1, 2024, in Los Angeles. Leaders from Northwestern University, the University of California, Los Angeles, and Rutgers University are expected to testify before Congress on Thursday, the latest in a series of hearings spearheaded by House Republicans into how colleges have responded to pro-Palestinian protests on their campuses. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, file)

BANGKOK (AP) — A plane with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has departed Bangkok after refueling and he is on the way to Saipan to enter a plea deal with the U.S. government that will free him and resolve the legal case over the publication of a trove of classified documents.

The chartered flight from London that Assange’s wife, Stella, confirmed was carrying her husband spent most of Tuesday at Don Mueang International Airport, from where it departed later in the evening, according to the Flightradar24 plane tracking app.

Airport officials told The Associated Press the plane was scheduled to continue on to Saipan, the capital of the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. commonwealth in the Pacific, where Assange is expected to appear in court on Wednesday.

He’s expected to plead guilty to an Espionage Act charge of conspiring to unlawfully obtain and disseminate classified national defense information, according to the U.S. Justice Department in a letter filed in court.

Assange is expected to return to his home country of Australia after his plea and sentencing. The hearing is taking place in Saipan because of Assange’s opposition to traveling to the continental U.S. and the court’s proximity to Australia, prosecutors said.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

BANGKOK (AP) — A plane carrying Julian Assange landed Tuesday in Bangkok for refueling, as the WikiLeaks founder was on his way to enter a plea deal with the U.S. government that will free him and resolve the legal case that spanned years and continents over the publication of a trove of classified documents.

A chartered flight from London that Assange’s wife, Stella, confirmed was carrying her husband landed at Don Mueang International Airport. Officials there told The Associated Press the plane was scheduled to continue on to Saipan, the capital of the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. commonwealth in the Pacific, where Assange is expected to appear in court on Wednesday.

He’s expected to plead guilty to an Espionage Act charge of conspiring to unlawfully obtain and disseminate classified national defense information, according to the U.S. Justice Department in a letter filed in court.

Assange is expected to return to his home country of Australia after his plea and sentencing. The hearing is taking place in Saipan because of Assange’s opposition to traveling to the continental U.S. and the court’s proximity to Australia, prosecutors said.

British judicial officials confirmed that Assange left the U.K. on Monday evening after being granted bail at a secret hearing last week.

“Thirteen-and-a-half years and two extradition requests after he was first arrested, Julian Assange left the U.K. yesterday, following a bail hearing last Thursday, held in private at his request,” said Stephen Parkinson, the chief prosecutor for England and Wales.

The plea deal brings an abrupt conclusion to a criminal case of international intrigue and to the U.S. government’s yearslong pursuit of a publisher whose hugely popular secret-sharing website made him a cause célèbre among many press freedom advocates who said he acted as a journalist to expose U.S. military wrongdoing. U.S. prosecutors, in contrast, have repeatedly asserted that his actions broke the law and put the country’s national security at risk.

Stella Assange told the BBC from Australia that it had been “touch and go” over the past 72 hours whether the deal would go ahead but she felt “elated” at the news. A lawyer who married the WikiLeaks founder in prison in 2022, she said details of the agreement would be made public once the judge had signed off on it.

“He will be a free man once it is signed off by a judge,” she said, adding that she still didn't think it was real.

She posted on the social media platform X that Assange will owe $520,000 to the Australian government for the charter flight, and asked for donations to help pay for it.

Kristinn Hrafnsson, editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, said the deal for Assange came about after the growing involvement of Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.

“This is the result of a long, long process which has been going on for some time. It has been a tough battle, but the focus now is on Julian being reunited with his family,” Hrafnsson told the PA news agency.

In a statement posted on the social media platform X, WikiLeaks said Assange boarded a plane after leaving the high-security London prison where he has spent the last five years. WikiLeaks applauded the announcement of the deal, saying it was grateful for “all who stood by us, fought for us, and remained utterly committed in the fight for his freedom.”

Albanese told Parliament that an Australian envoy had flown with Assange from London.

“Regardless of the views that people have about Mr. Assange’s activities, the case has dragged on for too long," Albanese said. “There’s nothing to be gained by his continued incarceration and we want him brought home to Australia.”

The deal ensures that Assange will admit guilt while also sparing him additional prison time. He is expected to be sentenced to the five years he has already spent in the British prison while fighting extradition to the U.S. to face charges, a process that has played out in a series of hearings in London.

Last month, he won the right to appeal an extradition order after his lawyers argued that the U.S. government provided “blatantly inadequate” assurances that he would have the same free speech protections as an American citizen if extradited from Britain.

Assange has been heralded by many around the world as a hero who brought to light military wrongdoing in Iraq and Afghanistan. Among the files published by WikiLeaks was a video of a 2007 Apache helicopter attack by American forces in Baghdad that killed 11 people, including two Reuters journalists.

But his reputation was also tarnished by the rape allegations, which he has denied.

The Justice Department’s indictment unsealed in 2019 accused Assange of encouraging and helping U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning steal diplomatic cables and military files that WikiLeaks published in 2010. Prosecutors had accused Assange of damaging national security by publishing documents that harmed the U.S. and its allies and aided its adversaries.

The case was lambasted by press advocates and Assange supporters. Federal prosecutors defended it as targeting conduct that went way beyond that of a journalist gathering information, amounting to an attempt to solicit, steal and indiscriminately publish classified government documents.

The plea agreement comes months after President Joe Biden said he was considering a request from Australia to drop the U.S. push to prosecute Assange. The White House was not involved in the decision to resolve Assange’s case, according to a White House official who was not authorized to speak publicly about the case and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

Assange made headlines again in 2016 after his website published Democratic emails that prosecutors say were stolen by Russian intelligence operatives. He was never charged in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, but the inquiry laid bare in stark detail the role that the hacking operation played in interfering in that year’s election on behalf of then-Republican candidate Donald Trump.

During the Obama administration, Justice Department officials mulled charges for Assange but were unsure a case would hold up in court and were concerned it could be hard to justify prosecuting him for acts similar to those of a conventional journalist.

The posture changed in the Trump administration, however, with former Attorney General Jeff Sessions in 2017 calling Assange’s arrest a priority.

Assange’s family and supporters have said his physical and mental health have suffered during more than a decade of legal battles.

Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in 2012 and was granted political asylum after courts in England ruled he should be extradited to Sweden as part of a rape investigation in the Scandinavian country. He was arrested by British police after Ecuador’s government withdrew his asylum status in 2019 and then jailed for skipping bail when he first took shelter inside the

Although Sweden eventually dropped its sex crimes investigation because so much time had elapsed, Assange had remained in London’s high-security Belmarsh Prison during the extradition battle with the U.S.

Tucker reported from Fort Pierce, Florida, and Durkin Richer from Washington. Associated Press writers Colleen Long in Washington, Napat Kongsawad and David Rising in Bangkok, Jill Lawless and Brian Melley in London and Rod McGuirk in Melbourne, Australia, contributed to this report.

The plane thought to be carrying WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange, on his way to enter a plea deal in U.S. court, lands in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, June 25, 2024. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

The plane thought to be carrying WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange, on his way to enter a plea deal in U.S. court, lands in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, June 25, 2024. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

FILE - Protesters hold placards in support of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange outside the High Court in London, Monday, May 20, 2024. Assange will plead guilty to a felony charge in a deal with the U.S. Justice Department that will free him from prison and resolve a long-running legal saga over the publication of a trove of classified documents. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung, File)

FILE - Protesters hold placards in support of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange outside the High Court in London, Monday, May 20, 2024. Assange will plead guilty to a felony charge in a deal with the U.S. Justice Department that will free him from prison and resolve a long-running legal saga over the publication of a trove of classified documents. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung, File)

FILE - Buildings are reflected in the window as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is taken from court, where he appeared on charges, Wednesday May 1, 2019 of jumping British bail seven years ago, in London. Assange will plead guilty to a felony charge in a deal with the U.S. Justice Department that will free him from prison and resolve a long-running legal saga over the publication of a trove of classified documents. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, File)

FILE - Buildings are reflected in the window as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is taken from court, where he appeared on charges, Wednesday May 1, 2019 of jumping British bail seven years ago, in London. Assange will plead guilty to a felony charge in a deal with the U.S. Justice Department that will free him from prison and resolve a long-running legal saga over the publication of a trove of classified documents. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, File)

FILE - WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is seen with his ankle security tag at the house where he is required to stay, near Bungay, England, Wednesday, June 15, 2011. Assange will plead guilty to a felony charge in a deal with the U.S. Justice Department that will free him from prison and resolve a long-running legal saga over the publication of a trove of classified documents. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, File)

FILE - WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is seen with his ankle security tag at the house where he is required to stay, near Bungay, England, Wednesday, June 15, 2011. Assange will plead guilty to a felony charge in a deal with the U.S. Justice Department that will free him from prison and resolve a long-running legal saga over the publication of a trove of classified documents. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, File)

FILE - Julian Assange speaks to the media outside the Ecuadorian embassy in London, May 19, 2017. Assange will plead guilty to a felony charge in a deal with the U.S. Justice Department that will free him from prison and resolve a long-running legal saga over the publication of a trove of classified documents. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, File)

FILE - Julian Assange speaks to the media outside the Ecuadorian embassy in London, May 19, 2017. Assange will plead guilty to a felony charge in a deal with the U.S. Justice Department that will free him from prison and resolve a long-running legal saga over the publication of a trove of classified documents. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, File)

FILE - WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange arrivies at Belmarsh Magistrates' Court in London, Feb. 7, 2011. Assange will plead guilty to a felony charge in a deal with the U.S. Justice Department that will free him from prison and resolve a long-running legal saga over the publication of a trove of classified documents. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, files)

FILE - WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange arrivies at Belmarsh Magistrates' Court in London, Feb. 7, 2011. Assange will plead guilty to a felony charge in a deal with the U.S. Justice Department that will free him from prison and resolve a long-running legal saga over the publication of a trove of classified documents. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, files)

FILE - WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange speaks on the balcony of the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, Feb. 5, 2016. Assange will plead guilty to a felony charge in a deal with the U.S. Justice Department that will free him from prison and resolve a long-running legal saga over the publication of a trove of classified documents. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, File)

FILE - WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange speaks on the balcony of the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, Feb. 5, 2016. Assange will plead guilty to a felony charge in a deal with the U.S. Justice Department that will free him from prison and resolve a long-running legal saga over the publication of a trove of classified documents. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, File)

The plane thought to be carrying WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange, on his way to enter a plea deal in U.S. court, lands in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, June 25, 2024. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

The plane thought to be carrying WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange, on his way to enter a plea deal in U.S. court, lands in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, June 25, 2024. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

The plane thought to be carrying WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange, on his way to enter a plea deal in U.S. court, lands in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, June 25, 2024. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

The plane thought to be carrying WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange, on his way to enter a plea deal in U.S. court, lands in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, June 25, 2024. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

FILE - WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange being taken from court, where he appeared on charges of jumping British bail seven years ago, in London, Wednesday May 1, 2019. Assange will plead guilty to a felony charge in a deal with the U.S. Justice Department that will free him from prison and resolve a long-running legal saga over the publication of a trove of classified documents. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, File)

FILE - WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange being taken from court, where he appeared on charges of jumping British bail seven years ago, in London, Wednesday May 1, 2019. Assange will plead guilty to a felony charge in a deal with the U.S. Justice Department that will free him from prison and resolve a long-running legal saga over the publication of a trove of classified documents. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, File)

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